May 27, 2008

A Nutrition Minute With Sharon Gruber: Watching Waistlines

by Sharon Gruber, Nutrition Consultant.

The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than doubled in the last 20 years. And during the same time, average portion sizes have kept up the pace, getting bigger year by year, matching our growing waistlines.

Here are a few eye-opening examples:

Today's 6-inch bagel has 350 calories. This is 210 more calories than the 3-inch bagel of 20 years ago. A 130-pound person would have to rake leaves for 50minutes to burn off the bagel of today.

The typical fast food cheeseburger served today has 590 calories. This is 257 more calories than the cheeseburger of 20 years ago. It would take 1 1/2 hours of weight lifting for a 130-pound person to burn off that burger.

Today's portion of spaghetti and meatballs has 1,025 calories. This includes 2 cups of pasta with sauce and 3 large meatballs -- and 525 more calories than a portion 20 years ago. 2 hours and 35 minutes of housecleaning would burn off such a deluxe portion.

Researchers have found that people feel “piggish”ordering more food at a restaurant, so instead, the restaurants have increased portion size, making us as customers feel like we’re getting a good deal, when we’re actually getting more than we need. We’re spending more money on low-quality restaurant food that we don’t need and less money on simpler, healthier food we prepare in our own homes.

And we really don’t need a cupboard of spices and oils to make healthy, tasty food at home. Here are a few staple ingredients for preparing food with lots of flavor: vinegar, lemon juice, cinnamon, garlic.

The last two are especially health-promoting. Sprinkling cinnamon on starches and grains (for example, oatmeal and pumpkin) helps slow the release of sugar into the blood stream. Cinnamon is a great friend to the diabetic or someone at risk of diabetes. And garlic, as well as its relatives in the allium family (onion, scallions), are very heart-healthy. Studies show that they dilate blood vessels to lower blood pressure.

If you've got to have that spaghetti and meatballs at a restaurant, though, or that cheeseburger just seems like something you can't do without, then don't forget about the increase in portion size. Save some for later, and at the very least, drink water instead of soda or juice, make sure your side dish is a salad (instead of fries), and ask for whole wheat instead of white flour. Then enjoy. If you're eating it, you might as well!

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